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     Volume 9 Issue 37| September 17, 2010 |


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Food for thought

Pet Theories and Metaphysical Misgivings

Farah Ghuznavi

Of all the many paradoxical relationships in the world, the one between human beings and animals must rate pretty high in terms of drastic contradictions. Think about it. On the one hand, we love them to bits – or at least, those of them we choose to keep as pets. On the other hand, we quite unashamedly “grow” them for consumption, whether it's for the production of food or clothing or leather goods etc.

More worryingly, we use animals for so-called sport - though I am not sure where the sport lies in these processes for them. This term of course covers a wide range of activities, from barbaric practices such as bull-fighting, fox-hunting, badger-baiting and cock-fighting, to the slightly less violent horse or dog-racing, as well as those pursuits considered fairly humane, such as high-end equestrian events. Entertainment generally continues to be a key theme of our approach to animals, although most circuses and even zoos now risk courting controversy in terms of their treatment of animals. Safari parks and wildlife sanctuaries, although feasible only in limited circumstances, are less debated as arenas within which humans can enjoy animals.

Some of us like to hunt them, giving less-than-convincing explanations of how shooting an animal can be viewed as an even struggle between an armed human and a non-aggressive, non-carnivorous animal such as a deer. Others use “culture” or even worse, “scientific research” (yes, Japan, I'm talking to you) as an excuse to kill highly intelligent mammals like whales. This despite the fact that the major part of the meat of the whales slaughtered is wasted, many of them are killed unnecessarily, and alleged findings from “scientific research” are, oddly enough, never shared – possibly because they don't exist!

Apart from all this, there is of course, a grotesque minority of humans – one must at least hope that they constitute a minority – that like to hurt animals just for fun e.g. torturing dogs and puppies, tearing feathers off birds etc. The latter situation is not always as clear cut as one would wish either, since many people have been known to mistreat not only the random animals they encounter, but also their own pets.

Now don't get me wrong. Despite my profound wishes – and occasional failed attempts – at vegetarianism, I remain very much a carnivore. But I do believe that as a species, we could do a lot better on the 'cruelty to animals' front than we currently are. And anyone who thinks otherwise should just try tuning in to some of the channels featuring animal rescue efforts; or even take a good look at what transpires on the streets of Dhaka, and elsewhere in Bangladesh.

On a happier note, there are those who are very kind to animals; some who are occasionally even kinder to other species than they are to people. I refer not to radicals belonging to the Animal Liberation Front, but to those who feel a genuine affinity to our feathered, four-legged - and occasionally, six-legged or spineless – friends. As long as they're reasonably kind to their fellow human beings as well, I don't really object to this. After all, kindness might be one of the few things that you genuinely can't have too much of in this world.

But every now and then I do find it instructive to see the lengths one can go to, in order to take care of the animals that one loves. Expatriate friends described to me in hushed tones how they had flown their cat out to an animal hospital in Thailand for some kind of life-saving surgery. The priorities of the receiving institution were made very clear by the tiny Pet Taxi taxi that met them at Bangkok airport; the animal was placed in the spacious cabin in the back of the vehicle, while the owners shared a cramped space in front...

You may be surprised to know that our very own national airport in Dhaka occasionally treats animals as VIPs as well. Another friend had decided to import some Persian cats from Thailand, and had to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole that involved obtaining detailed health reports and a number of exit certificates etc. for these precious animals. He was dreading how much more might be demanded in terms of paperwork, not to mention under-the-counter bribes, once he reached Bangladesh, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that for once, our farcical levels of efficiency worked in his favour. The cats were allowed into the country as 'human/animal VIPs' precisely because we don't have processes to regulate the import of animals properly!

And just in case you were thinking that this is a ridiculous level of indulgence to show with animals, I came across a story in Bloomberg News that really gave me a shock. It seems that a large number of Americans (estimates range from 20 to 40 million) believe in the Rapture; a time when righteous Christians are selected and taken away to a better place, while the godless remain on Earth. Apparently, this has raised the question for many people - who clearly need to find better things to think about - about what happens to the pets left behind by the righteous as they journey heavenwards.

A little grooming for man’s best friend.

According to Todd Strandberg - founder in 1987 of “rapture ready”, a clearing-house website for Bible prophecy and God’s endgame that draws 250,000 visitors each month, and a self-described expert on what to expect when the Second Coming…ahem, comes - “Pets don’t have souls, so they’ll remain on Earth...I don’t see how they can be taken with you. A lot of persons are concerned about their pets, but I don’t know if they should necessarily trust atheists to take care of them.”

But for every problem, there is a solution and this one is provided by Bart Centre, a 61-year-old retired retail executive and committed atheist, who has started the Eternal Earth-Bound Pets website. It advertises itself as “The next best thing to pet salvation in a Post Rapture World” , and is a service that promises to rescue and care for the animals left behind by enraptured Christians. He says, “If you love your pets, I can’t understand how you could not consider this.”

And for those who may be concerned about the issue that Mr. Strandberg raised earlier, Centre addresses that tricky question on the “worthiness” of his pet carers by assuring the soon-to-be-departed Rapture crowd that his pet rescuers are wicked enough to be left behind in the event of the Rapture, but good enough to take proper care of the abandoned pets. To resolve that paradox, he vets the atheists on two grounds: they must sign an affidavit to affirm their disbelief in God (which ensures that they will remain earthbound, alongside the abandoned pets), and they must also clear a criminal background check to prove their worthiness as potential pet owners.

One might argue that when an event as momentous as the Rapture arrives, people will all have better things to worry about than the state of their pets, but clearly Mr. Centre's potential clients beg to differ. He already has more than 100 clients, each paying $110 for a 10-year contract and $15 for each additional pet. There's no question about it, it takes all kinds...


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